April showers in Brown County (umbrellas included)

Written by Davie Kean, master gardener at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site

The arrival of spring might be described as lenient, merciful and mild. These terms are also the definition of the word clement, Theodore Steele’s middle name.

I’ve never lived in a city, but I expect that city dwellers also have budding expectations as the end of winter becomes more than just wishful thinking. We all await signs of spring — snowdrops, short sleeves — even rain! A bluebird’s trill one day, a drift of daffodils the next. Spring is cumulative.

Actually spring is more of a dance — two steps forward, one step back. After being teased by temps in the low 70s, it’s back to barely above freezing — but great weather for clearing out the flower beds in Selma Steele’s historic gardens. For you, T.C. Steele’s studio and the country home he shared with his wife Selma offer a glimpse into the past and the arrival of a new season, while sheltered from inclement weather.

T.C. Steele staff member Mary Ann Woerner captured this cheery April scene, despite the drizzle.

Although the site has much to offer on sunny days, (a hike along our wooded trails, a meditative moment at the cemetery, or a stroll through the historic gardens) it’s just as inspiring when the forecast turns gray. Sure, you could remain comfortable and cozy at home, but why not experience a bit of life in the early 1900s — and feel even more comfy in comparison?

Just as 40 degree temperatures feel cool in April but warm in January, comfort is relative. The Steele’s lifestyle (a term yet to be invented in their day) was opulent compared to that of their new Brown County neighbors, but mainstream in Indianapolis, where they usually wintered until 1916.

Eventually, Nature’s attractions overcame convenience, and T.C. and Selma decided to stay in Brown County year-round. Our schedule now coincides with theirs — we’re open year-round — whatever the weather. Don’t let the rain stop you from visiting. We’re high and dry on Bracken Hill.*

Experience spring in both 1907 and 2011. Let your expectations rise along with the waters of Salt Creek. Next time it rains, take a trek to Brown County and enjoy art, history and nature on 211 acres. Leave your umbrellas at home — we have plenty to spare.

*If spring floods leave the road underwater, call 812.988.2785 for detour directions.

Did you just say “Skin the Gerbil”?

Author Takeshi Kamisato is  the organizer of the Indiana State Yo-Yo Contest and a Duncan Yo-Yo Professional

Shoot the moon, sword and shield, split the atom, milk the cow, skin the gerbil … to most people these phrases are random and very strange, but they are an essential part of the modern day yo-yo player’s vocabulary. They are all names of standard tricks in today’s crazy world of new school yo-yoing.

The first yo-yo boom started in Chicago back in the early 1930s when Donald F. Duncan, founder of Duncan Yo-Yos, teamed up with newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. They promoted and ran yo-yo contests throughout the city. They took this campaign nationwide and professional demonstrators were scattered across the country. And just like that, America’s love for the yo-yo was born.

In the mid-1990s, the popularity of the ball-bearing yo-yo skyrocketed and pushed yo-yo play to new levels. In 1999, the largest worldwide yo-yo boom in history was in full swing. Advanced yo-yo technology coupled with kids who have no preconceived notions on what a yo-yo could not do created the perfect environment for creativity and trick innovation grew exponentially.

Today, there are five major styles in yo-yoing and more tricks than any human could ever learn. If it has been a while since you have seen someone playing with a yo-yo, then you owe it to yourself to come on down to the 2011 Indiana State Yo-Yo Contest at the Indiana State Museum on April 29 and 30. For detailed information, please visit www.indianastates.newschool101.com.

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Wonders never cease … I think not

by Nicole Morgan, Museum Education Specialist

I grew up here in Indiana, born and raised. Through the years, I have heard tale of many oddities around this beautiful state of ours. There have been a few of these old fables that have caught my fancy, enough so that I have ventured out of Indianapolis to witness these wonders on my own.

I heard about Gravity Hill in Mooresville and took the short trip to experience this phenomenon. The story goes that an Indian witch doctor was buried at the foot of a low hill in Mooresville and anyone who stops their car at the bottom of the hill and puts it in neutral will find themselves mysteriously coasting back up the hill for nearly a quarter-mile. I’m not sure if my Subaru was just too scared to attempt this feat or if I was just not a true believer, but my car merely stood still. Maybe the witch doctor was taking a nap?

I also took a trip to Lake Manitou, sometimes referred to as Devil’s Lake. The lake got this diabolical nickname to due to the legend of a giant serpent-like monster that is believed to reside there. This mythical creature is so old that the story is part of legend told by the Potawatomi Indians. I stood on the banks of the lake for hours. Searching. Waiting. Hoping. Nothing. Not even a fish did I see.

So when I was asked to think about something to write about for Arbor Day, I saw the perfect opportunity to explore another Indiana marvel in one of my favorite places in Indiana — Brown County. In Yellowwood Forest, there are mysterious rocks called Unexplained Resting Boulders, or URBs. These boulders are so unusual because they are found in the tree tops and no on can explain how they got there. The largest one discovered was called Gobbler’s Rock because it was found by a turkey hunter. It was a 400 pound sandstone boulder that rested about 40 feet in the tree.

Rita on the lookout for lurking URBs.

My mission was clear: Round up the dogs, get to Yellowood Forest, take a picture of aforementioned boulder and then blog my little heart out. I found a website that gave coordinates and foot directions to the tree, packed the dogs into the car and drove south. The directions seemed easy enough to follow but when we arrived to the location of the tree, it was no where to be found. I sent the dogs on the hunt and we came up empty. How could I miss a 400 pound boulder in a tree, you ask? Well, when I returned home, muddy and defeated, I did a little more research only to find that the Gobbler’s Rock tree fell down in 2006. Another missed marvel by yours truly. The trip was not all for naught. I did get to share the beauty of Yellowwood Forest with my dogs. Who knows, with all of the state forests Indiana has to choose from, maybe I am meant to discover the next URB. We could name it after my dog, Rita Rock.

Of restaurants and museum artifacts

A theory about people and taste led me to see if I could find a connection between the kinds of activities or artifacts people enjoy at the museum and their favorite foods. After a bit of investigation, I don’t know that my theory necessarily holds any water, but I still think it’s fun to note their favorites and pass along a few Indiana State Museum staff picks.

  Gail Brown: Manager, Science Content Delivery
~ Indiana connection: Born and raised in Monon, Ind.
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: The atlatl in the Native American Gallery
~ Favorite event at the museum / time of year: Native American Dance Circle
~ Favorite restaurant: Bruno’s Pizza, West Lafayette
  Joanna Hahn: Manager of Arts and Culture Programs
~ Indiana connection: Born and raised in Madison County, Ind.
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: Kiddish Cup in Hoosier Way Gallery
~ Favorite event at the museum / time of year: Fall when we are the busiest with programs and there are a lot of fun things to do.
~ Favorite restaurant: Right now my favorite restaurant is Iozzo’s Italian on South Meridian.
~ Favorite homemade food: macaroni and cheese
  Michele Greenan: Curator of Prehistoric Archaeology
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: Native American Gallery and the beautifully incised archaic bone pins
~ My favorite time at the museum is late at night working in the clean lab against the lights of the canal.
~ My favorite restaurant in Indy is any Starbucks!
  Eric Todd: Science and Technology Program Specialist
~ Indiana connection: Graduated from Butler University in 2006
~ Favorite artifact: Bobby Plump’s Milan High School basketball jacket
~ Favorite program: Summer Camps
~ Favorite local restaurant: Yats
  Carrie M. Miller: Science & Technology Program Developer
~ Indiana connection: Born in Rush county, Ind.
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: The natural history galleries including the R.B. Annis Naturalist’s Lab
~ Favorite event at the museum / time of year: GeoFest
~ Favorite restaurant or favorite homemade food: Pretty much anything prepared by my mom.
  Katherine Gould: Associate Curator of Cultural History
~ Indiana connection: Moved here to attend graduate school. Got a job and stayed.
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: 1970s popular culture wall in Global Indiana (bongs and bell bottoms!)
~ Favorite event at the museum / time of year: I’m a sucker for anything Christmas.
~ Favorite restaurant: Any Thai or Indian restaurant is my favorite. Spicy, spicy, spicy!
  Rachel Perry: Fine Arts Curator
~ Indiana connection: Raised in Bloomington, attended University High School and earned a bachelor’s degree at Indiana University
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: NiSource Gallery (where most of our art exhibitions are displayed), of course! Favorite painting is “Dairy Barn” by Robert Selby
~ Favorite event at the museum / time of year: Great Outdoor Contest at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site
~ Favorite restaurant: College Avenue Yats
  Katy Creagh: Museum Program Specialist
~ Indiana connection: Graduated from high school in Munster and went to Ball State University
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: The Bride & Groom fleas in Odd Indiana
~ Favorite event at the museum / time of year: The Indiana Art Fair and Arbor Day
~ Favorite restaurant: Cafe Patachou
  Mary Jane Teeters-Eichacker: Curator of Social History
~ Indiana connection: I was born on a farm west of Greenwood in Johnson County.
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: A pair of dolls given by a Civil War soldier to his daughters before he went off to camp, where he died a month later.
~ Favorite event at the museum: The Indiana Art Fair in February is always a wonderful blast of color and beauty in a cold, gloomy time of year.
~ Favorite restaurant: El Sol de Tala on East Washington Street serves the best Mexican food in Indiana!
  Kerry Baugh: Arts & Culture Program Developer
~ Indiana connection: Born and raised in Terre Haute, Ind. (Vigo County)
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: The entire Odd Indiana exhibit, limestone quarry and the handwritten John Mellencamp lyrics for “Jack & Diane”
~ Favorite event at the museum: Hard to choose, but Family New Year’s Eve is one great party!
~ Favorite restaurant: Market Bella Rosa in Terre Haute; Taste Café and the Donut Shop in Indy.
~ Favorite homemade food: Depends on the season, but right now – chili.
  Christa Petra Barleben: Arts and Culture Program Specialist
~ Indiana connection: Fort Wayne is my hometown
~ Favorite Artifact: Julia Graydon Sharpe’s Silk Ball Gown in the Crossroads of America Gallery.
~ Favorite Event: Pinewood Derby
~ Favorite Restaurant: Creation Café

We’d love to hear about your favorite event or exhibit at the museum. Comment below and let us know some of your Indiana favorites.

Oh, the places you’ll go … with a nice beard

by Dr. David Powell, Evansville, Beard Team USA 2007 and 2009

I first learned about the world beard and mustache competition when it was featured on the Internet news. The 2005 event was in Berlin and the Germans won 15 of the 16 categories.

Phil Olson, the Beard Team USA captain, told how he was miffed at the outcome and suspected a little “home cooking” on the part of the German judges. He made an appeal on the Beard Team USA blog calling for every hirsute red-blooded American male to rise to the occasion, stop shaving and mount an assault on the 2007 World Beard and Mustache contest with the goal of taking back the top honors and bring them home to the U.S.A. Having maintained a well-trimmed beard for the last seven years and a sporty handlebar mustache since high school, I felt it my patriotic duty to join Beard Team USA and support my fellow Americans at the Brighton, England, event.

Tossing my razor aside, I went in to beard-training mode. The category I chose to compete in was “partial beard freestyle,” which meant I could use styling aides like mousse and hair spray but no artificial coloring or non-hair augmentation.

The 2009 Beard Team USA. Dr. Powell is second from right and Bremen Groves is fourth from right in the brown cap.

I came up with a western style costume like one of the gunfighters in the O.K. Corral, sort of Wyatt Earp style. It was complete with a black frock, boots, spurs and badge but sans the guns as they would have not been amusing to the “bobbies” in the UK.

The city of Brighton treated those of us on the Beard Team like rock stars! It was a sell-out crowd and just as exciting as … well, a cross between Project Runway and Hoosier Hysteria. I had my picture taken with dozens of fans and I made the evening news on the BBC Southwest, along with TV news in Norway, Portugal, World TV cable news and blogs, some of which I am still finding out about.

The Germans gave up many of the titles they took at the Berlin contest. I came in fourth place. Officially that means I was not first, second or third. There was a sell-out crowd in Brighton and more than $20,000 raised for a testicular cancer charity and the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton.

Upon returning from the UK event, I met up with Bremen Groves, my friend since fifth grade, and suggested that he consider entering the next WBMC.

Bremen sported a reddish-blond goatee that had a natural wavy character to it that I thought would give the USA team a boost. Unknown to either of us at that time, Bremen just happened to be a spitting image of the host beard club’s mascot, a Gabby Hayes gold miner looking character. That along with his never-met-a-stranger personality launched him into a tie for first place, natural goatee category. He came in second in a run-off against a fellow Beard Team member from California; a German came in third.

We both continue to “train” for the next beard event and still get stopped by locals asking for their pictures to be taken with us, and we try to encourage men to join Beard Team USA.

Come to the Indiana State Museum for Curls, Cornrows and Comb-overs on Saturday, Jan. 29 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and meet both of these Hoosier members of Beard Team USA. You can also learn about the science and culture of hair from a wide array of hair experts and enjoy hands-on activities.

What’s Doin’ at the Dewar Cabin?

Written by Davie Kean, master gardener at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site

T.C. Steele State Historic Site is a place of many contrasts. Here, visitors can compare an earlier way of life to their own, as they tour the historic buildings and learn of the hardships the Steeles faced upon arriving in Brown County in 1907.

The site’s Dewar Log Cabin presents another contrast. It is so different from the Steeles’ House of the Singing Winds, that it’s hard to believe that both were lived in during the same early time period. The cabin’s present location — about two miles from its original spot — is within sight of the artist’s sprawling Arts & Crafts style home, but in appearance, they are miles apart.

Selma Steele purchased and moved the little cabin in 1934, wanting to preserve it as an example of local architecture. She used it as a Trailside Museum, housing objects from nature found along the same hills and valleys painted by her husband, T.C. Steele.

That’s a bit of background. Today, artists and visitors find both buildings equally appealing. Proof of the cabin’s popularity was exhibited (literally) this fall at the Great Outdoor Art Contest on Sept. 11, 2010. The log building was featured in these winning entries:

First Place Watercolor: William Borden of Hanover, Indiana

First Place Teen 13-18: Luke Sanders, Fishers, Indiana

First Place child 12 & under: James Szalkie, Indianapolis, Indiana (also, the grandson of 1st place Watercolor winner!)

Want to know more about the cabin’s history and happenings? Ask a docent for details. Visit the site and make your own comparisons. Imagine yourself as the parents of 18 children living in the Dewar Cabin — or as a content couple entertaining and hosting area artists in the House on Bracken Hill.

The Magic of Christmas Past

 by Anne Fairchild, Eastern Region Program Manager for the Indiana State Museum

It’s not really a secret that this time of year is special for me. Not only is it the sweet smell of cider and the crisp cool air, but my memories from childhood of jumping in large colorful piles of leaves, and the realization that the holidays are upon us. It’s time for sugar cookies, spiced eggnog, time to primp, polish, and prepare to dazzle. The Lanier Mansion has to be absolutely beautiful because we are a very large part of a longstanding holiday tradition in this community.

That’s right. It’s time for the annual Night Before Christmas Candlelight Tour of Homes. Thousands of people descend upon Madison from Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana for this favorite holiday tradition. Each year, the Lanier Mansion is among the selected outstanding historic private homes and museums to open their door and be the face of Christmas Cheer in Madison. It is very fulfilling to see families returning year after year to soak in the fine architectural details and beautiful décor with continued amazement and awe. Candlelight Tour of Homes is happening Nov. 26, 27, Dec. 3 and 4.

For the last four years, the Lanier Mansion has taken its holiday decorating in an exciting new direction. Instead of offering the same old over-the-top fare you see everywhere, the Lanier Mansion is offering a truly authentic glimpse of an early Victorian Christmas. We are proud of the fact that our holiday décor is much more in keeping with the kind of holiday that Charles Dickens would have witnessed. We have on display some of the very same toys that children would have found under their Christmas tree in 1850.

The best part of this time of year is that it is a time where the staff here can get their batteries re-charged, so to speak. We can talk to people who enjoy the subtle changes we’ve made through the year, and truly appreciate the grandeur of this old home. It is delightful to see so many people enjoying the fruits of our labor. It fills us with the Christmas Spirit!

In addition we have a Victorian Christmas experience for younger children as well. Spirit of Christmas Past is Dec. 11 from 2 to 4 p.m. and will include a Victorian Santa, storytelling, light refreshments and a craft. For more information go to indianamuseum.org/lanier.

Pirates invade Whitewater Canal!

by Joanne Williams, Program Director and Cultural Administrator at Whitewater Canal State Historic Site

Pirates have invaded the Whitewater Canal State Historic Site and they are taking prisoners! A Spartan general was taken prisoner by the pirate captain, Captain Panther, on Saturday night, Oct. 16. Saturday was a strange and wonderful evening for the site; the Belgian draft horses that normally pull the canal boat the Ben Franklin III were replaced by unicorns and the staff was replaced by witches, pirates, Spartans, mad doctors and men with green faces!

These strange occurrences will happen again on Saturday, Oct. 23, when the Whitewater Canal State Historic Site hosts its annual Spooky Halloween Cruises at 7:30, 8 and 8:30 p.m. A professional storyteller will be on board telling Halloween tales and children will receive a candy treat at the end of the ride, provided by the Brookville IGA and Rosenbergers Market. Admission to the cruise is $4 per person. In addition, the merchants of Metamora are sponsoring a “Haunted Village” at $5 per person for a hayride around Metamora’s “haunted” sights from 7 to 10 p.m. The Whitewater Canal Byway Association is sponsoring a “Haunted Depot” at the Gateway Park on U.S. 52 for $12 per person from 7 to 11 p.m.  Metamora will soon need to change its name to Halloween Town!

What is iconic in Indiana?

Recently, while working on a new project, I was tasked with coming up with things that are iconic in Indiana. Of course, for a foodie like me, most of the things that pop into my mind are edible. Pork tenderloins, persimmons, fried biscuits, sugar cream pie, fried green tomatoes and sati-babis are just a few. Food-related activities like mushroom hunting, shopping at roadside veggie stands and sharing the road with combines and tractors, comes in second.

To others, Indiana is racing and basketball and high school football rivalries. It is chiggers and marching bands or universities like Purdue and IU.

But I’ve noticed that when you’ve lived someplace your entire life, it can be difficult to see how unique it is because it’s what you’ve always known. Such is the case for me with tenderloins and mushroom hunting. It wasn’t until I met someone from Cleveland who I invited mushroom hunting, that I realized that not everyone is familiar with our Hoosier way of life. Do you ever talk to someone from somewhere else and reference Sammy Terry or Cowboy Bob? When they look puzzled, you realize (with sadness) that their childhood as non-Hoosier must be incomplete.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that most people outside of our great state have never experienced the joy of a battered and fried tenderloin bigger than a plate.

So my question for you is: What makes Indiana different than anywhere else? If someone wants to experience real Indiana, what should they do? If they want to take home a real Hoosier souvenir to document their trip here – what do you recommend?

On banjos and museum education

by Anne Fairchild, Eastern Region Program Manager for the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites

This past weekend, I took a couple of vacation days to go on a little getaway. Only it wasn’t a getaway, as much as an adventure. And the adventure began over four years ago right here at the Lanier Mansion after I started working for the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. 

Dr. Ron Morris, professor of History at Ball State University, received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help teachers learn best practices for teaching social studies. A very large part of that is including regular visits to museums and historic sites (like Lanier Mansion) in their own communities and across Indiana.

Since that time, Dr. Morris has helped many of our Historic Sites develop useful tools for educators, going so far as to purchase everyday objects used at the Lanier Mansion for student programs about the Lanier family and their servants. He even helped us write an educational script about a middle-class carpenter who helped build the Lanier Mansion and worked and lived in the same community as the Lanier family. Dr. Morris’ curriculum development class has developed lesson plans for the Lanier home as well as several other state historical sites. His students also created documentaries on the historical and architectural importance of Madison as well as Indiana Mills, New Harmony and a beginning interactive DVD about the Underground Railroad. 

In honor of his work for the Lanier Mansion and other State Historic Sites in our system and around Indiana, Dr. Morris won a Leadership in History Award of Merit from the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH), presented last Friday in Oklahoma City. A couple of us took some personal time to head to Oklahoma City to honor him. The AASLH also recognized the Levi Coffin State Historic Site‘s outstanding volunteers Saundra Jackson, Janice McGuire and the other Levi Coffin House Association volunteers. There was a strong Indiana contingency at the AASLH Awards Dinner.

(L-R) Laura Minzes, Bob McGuire, Janice McGuire, Ron Morris, Saundra Jackson, Anne Fairchild and David Buchanan

Talk about a turn-around trip! It was 15-hour drive with meeting folks in Indy, stops and such. For those of us in the museum education field, it is impossible to not compare other historic sites and attractions to where we work. How can we not secretly feel a little smug when passing the much-touted Missouri Vacuum Cleaner Outlet and Museum? Even on our vacations, I think we tend to pick up good ideas from other places, and feel good about things we think we do better. It is energizing! However, I was glad to get back home.

All in all, I learned how to make Chickasaw Native American style beaded earrings, saw a tremendously beautiful Chihuly glass exhibit at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, visited the haunting Oklahoma City National Memorial commemorating the 1995 attack, talked to someone about finding a reproduction gold $10 coin that Lanier would have taken to Washington, D.C., (visit the site to find out why!), took a canal ride in the old “Bricktown” district, visited the American Banjo Museum and Hall of Fame, and did a lot of walking around. Seriously, did you know about art banjos? With some, it was hard to tell if you should play them or wear them like a tiara with all those encrusted jewels. My favorite banjo paid homage to the carousel horses. I also found a cool historical toy for the Lanier Mansion toy box that I had been seeking. So you see, it always comes back to Lanier!

Thank you Dr. Morris for all you do for the Lanier Mansion and the other Indiana State Historic Sites, and thank you Levi Coffin House Association for all you do for that site and Underground Railroad history in Indiana. We appreciate you!

All photos by Rainette Rowland.